October 19, Third Debate scheduled at University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
During the week leading up to the final debate, Hillary Clinton had been preparing as she did for the first two debates. She had also expanded her TV ads, ground campaign and surrogate speeches into G.O.P. red states: Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, even Texas. Her poll numbers continued to rise nationally and in most swing states. Clinton aimed to help down-ballot Senate and House Democrats in tight races win by investing her cash in their campaigns. Donald Trump had refused to prepare for the debate, as he did before the first two– which he lost. At rallies, he denigrated the nine women who came forth after he denied his boasts on the Bus Tape. They accused him of physical assaults in the past years. Trump repeatedly called them “liars” and implied they were not attractive enough to interest him. His main theme at rallies and on Twitter was warning in dark tones of a “rigged election.” There is a “conspiracy” taking place. “The polls are rigged.” “The media is rigged.” “The entire system is rigged!” He urged his supporters to swamp the polls on November 8.
Reaction from national and state officials and TV anchors had been swift. They declared on TV or in print that in-person fraud at the ballot box is almost nonexistent. Presidential elections are controlled by each state and poll watchers are chosen from both parties through a rigorous system. A Loyola Law School study showed that in a billion votes cast in U.S. elections from 2000 to 2014, only 31 ballots were false in-person voting. Trump did not retreat from his theme. On Tuesday, October l8, at a rally in Colorado Springs, he said, “Voter fraud is all too common and they criticize us for saying that. Take a look at Philadelphia what’s been going on, take a look at Chicago, take a look at St. Louis . Take a look at some of these cities, where you see things happening that are horrendous.” Those inner cities, of course, are populated heavily by African-Americans and other minorities.
On October l8, President Obama at a press conference in the Rose Garden rebuked Donald Trump for his attacks on our democratic elections and warnings of a “rigged election”. He said, “ I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place.” His advice to Trump was “to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.” The New York Times front page article on October 19 reported “ no signs of a wave of poll watchers building” among Trump supporters in the big cities he had targeted.
On the night of the Third Debate in Las Vegas, Trump was falling behind in most national and swing state polls. He brought guests to the debate to sit in the audience to rattle his opponent: President Obama’s estranged half brother from Kenya, the mother of an official killed in Benghazi, and a woman who accused Bill Clinton of assaulting her decades ago. Hillary invited former CEO and Republican, Meg Whitman and Marc Cuban, billionaire critic of Trump. The two candidates walked to their lecterns as the audience applauded, without shaking hands. Chris Wallace of Fox News was the moderator and he listed six topics they would discuss. He began with the supreme court, followed by guns, abortion and immigration.
Both candidates answered with substantive answers on the supreme court. Trump said he had already listed a number of people he would support and promised to appoint “pro-lifers”and “conservative judges” to the court. Clnton promised to seek a court that will “stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful corporations and the wealthy”. When they moved to guns, Trump stressed his endorsemen from The National Rifle Association and his support of the Second Amendment. He implied gun control laws were ineffective. Clinton called for “reasonable restrictions on guns that are consistent with the Second Amendment like background checks. She spoke of the thousands of Americans who die each year from guns and gave the example of “toddlers” accidentally killing family members with guns in the house.
On abortion, the mood changed from substance to bitter exchanges from both candidates. Trump, who is now fiercely pro-life, gave a graphic description of “partial birth abortion” that was completely refuted by doctors after the debate. Clinton stressed a woman’s right to make decisions about her body with her family and doctor . She said that government should not be in charge of making those decisions. She also shared that Trump is on record for “punishment” for women who had an abortion. When Wallace moved to Immigration and borders, Trump accused Clinton of wanting “open borders” and “amnesty”. He warned that “we have some bad hombres here and we are going to get them out.” Clinton rejected his charge of “amnesty”, saying she would introduce her plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” in her first 100 days on office. She also attacked his proposed “ deportation force” that would “rip families apart , knocking on doors in the middle of the night” to evict eleven million “illegal immigrants”.
Throughout the rest of the debate, the candidates traded bitter exchanges over significant topics. They clashed as Clinton cited Trump’s preference for Putin as a stronger leader than Obama, and the Russian hacking of our emails as attempts to influence our national election. As the last hour of the debate unfolded, Trump reverted to his sharp insults, calling Clinton a “liar” with “criminal conduct” and interrupting her often with “Wrong” , “Wrong” . His “Such a nasty woman” came as she answered the last question on social security. Clinton kept her cool, smiled at times and dismissed his allegations with “Everything you have heard is false.” Trump glowered or smirked and sniffed as he had in previous debates.
Wallace brought up Trump’s incessant threat at rallies that “The system is rigged.” “The media is rigged.” “ The polls are rigged.” He asked both candidates if they would honor the results of the election. Clinton answered first, saying she would of course honor the election results. Trump shocked the audience and the 71 million watchers of the debate around the world when he replied, “I will have to see what the results are at the time.” The audience reaction was instant as loud gasps reverberated from the thousands right there. Then, Wallace asked the question again and Trump replied, “I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense.” Trump gave every American newspaper and some overseas the banner headline for October 20.
After the debate ended, the commentators on CNN, MSNBC and,Fox News called his response, “A death wish! ” , “Unbelievable! , “First time in our nation ‘s political history.” No candidate has ever refused to concede when they lost the electoral college count. Some like Al Gore in the delayed 2000 count, eventually won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. He did not dispute the final decision by the Supreme Court to call the election for George W. Bush. Donald Trump had continued his entertainment, reality show of a campaign by announcing he would not make that commitment until he reviewed the results. The nation’s leaders and the American public were not amused. They were appalled!